Thursday, January 28, 2010

Giants Prospects in Mayo's Top 50

Jonathan Mayo, the MLB's Minors expert, released his Top 50 prospect list for 2010 recently. I like to see what he is thinking because he was the one who turned me on to Tim Lincecum in the draft and got me to believe that he would fall to us in the draft (but nobody's perfect, he thought we would pick some strong-armed big body, Daniel Bard I think; but if I recall right, he nailed the first 8-10 picks in the 2009 draft though). He has Buster Posey as the 4th prospect and Madison Bumgarner as the 10th (which is a drop for MadBum, I think, from last year, but Posey rose from the high teens).

In the article I linked to, he did a team comparison showing how many of the Top 50 prospects that each team had. The Giants were tied with a bunch of teams with 2 of the Top 50 prospects. Texas, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City led with 4 prospects each.

But I was bothered by that comparison because we have 2 of the Top 10 prospects on the list, and only Texas beat us to being the first team to achieve that, and they are the only two teams to achieve that. So I tried a weighted scoring methodology so that a team that has a higher ranked prospect would get more credit for it, instead of just a simple count because that credits a team for a 50th prospect as much as a team with the 1st prospect. I gave the #1 prospect, Jason Heyward (wow, not Stephan Strasburg, though he was 2nd) 50 points, then one less point (49) for the 2nd, and so on until the 50th got 1 point.

Using that scoring system, here is the ranking by team:
  1. Tampa Bay 141
  2. Texas 131
  3. San Francisco 88
  4. Florida 74
  5. Toronto 69
  6. Atlanta 67
  7. Milwaukee 64
  8. Washington 60
  9. Kansas City 55
  10. Boston 53
So, using the article's comparison, the Giants come in tied for 5th with 12 other teams and thus look like just like any other team(plus with 50 slots and 30 teams, there is an average of 1.67 prospects per team). However, using my methodology, which weighs each prospect, the Giants come in a clear third place, far behind the leaders Tampa Bay and Texas but as far ahead of the 4th place team, Florida, as Florida is from the 8th place team Washington.

I think the Giants should still be on the higher side in 2011, close to 10th at least. Posey is probably going to be in the minors long enough that he should not lose his rookie status in 2010 and thus be eligible for ROY in 2011, now that Molina is around. Thus the Giants should have him ranked highly again, and he could move up a spot or two.

I'm not sure about Bumgarner, as it is still unclear to me whether the Giants are serious about starting him or looking for a 5th starter. Obviously, if he's still in the minors, he'll probably stay there a good portion of the season, particularly to avoid Super-2 status, and would still be a rookie for 2011. But obviously, if he starts in the majors, 2010 would be his rookie season and he would not be in the ranking next year.

And, at the moment, there is nobody who clearly will make the Top 50 in 2011 to take Bumgarner's place. Angel Villalona has the best set of skills and performance for making the list, in that he had the cred previously and could regain that cred with a good season in 2011. However, with no visa to even enter the U.S. because of his legal difficulties at home due to the shooting death that involved him, he'll be lucky to play in 2011, let alone bring things up a notch. Thomas Neal had a great 2009 but will have to raise things a notch again in AA in 2010 to have any hope of making the Top 50. Brandon Crawford could improve his chances by hitting in AA like he did in San Jose in 2009, but he too would need to raise things a notch. Roger Kieschnick could also put his name into play by greatly reducing his strikeouts and doing very well in AA, but like the others, unlikely to do enough to reach the Top 50.

The best chance would be if Zach Wheeler busts out of the gates like Bumgarner did in his full pro season. Wheeler could reach the Top prospect ranks if he can pitch like Bumgarner did. But not every young pitcher is going to do well in the minors, no matter how good they looked as an amateur, particularly high school pitchers. Hopefully your scouts did their job, but until he pitches for real, all we have is a hope that his skills will translate into the pro ranks.

I expect Wheeler to start out in Augusta, much like Bumgarner, both because of his strong skill set as well as its closeness to his hometown, which should help with his adjustment to the pro ranks, lessening homesickness, as well as having family and friends being able to make his games.

So it does not look probable that the Giants will keep their top spot, but there are some possibilities, mainly Bumgarner spending the year in the minors and Wheeler dominating in A-ball, that suggest that the Giants could stay up there, and perhaps could go up a spot or two, depending on how many of the other teams' prospects graduate in 2010.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jenkins: Why Not Play Posey Elsewhere?

Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins asks this question in a recent column, "Who Cares If Posey Can't Catch?" He says what if the offense is struggling and Posey is killing AAA pitching, should he be brought up and play other positions. My answer: any Giants fan should care.

Giants Thoughts

Catcher is the position at which Posey provides significant value. If he were like Matt Weithers, then, yeah, he could be very valuable at almost any position with the way he hits (assuming he can field decently at other positions), including 1B. Posey, however, is only valuable at up the middle positions, he would be average at best for the corner positions and below average at 1B, unless he can field that position as well as the greats do. And catcher is where he would be especially valuable, unlike CF, 2B, and even SS, where offense is available to a great degree.

Looking long-term, while catcher can be a debilitating position, I think Posey is posed to have a career similar to Craig Biggio and it would fit in with our current prospects/personnel. Posey can be our catcher during his pre-free agency years for the most part, then shift to either CF or 2B as needed, though most probably CF as we have Burriss and Noonan coming up who might hold the spot for a number of years if they develop, whereas we don't have any great prospects coming up in CF, only average ones, maybe Mike McBryde in the near-term or Wendell Fairley eventually. And SS is always a position in need, though hopefully Brandon Crawford could be the long-term answer there.

At that point, hopefully one of our other catching prospects might be ready to take over. Jackson Williams is suppose to be a very good defensive catcher, maybe by that point, our offense can afford to have a poor hitter like him catching (or he could develop enough offense, catchers often take until their late 20's to develop their hitting) and be the defensive stalwart that he was projected to be. We also have other catchers, like Hector Sanchez, who might develop by then as well. Then at some point Posey could possibly be moved to another position, depending on the Giants need and extend his career as a valuable player.

This is the lack of patience that Henry Schulman noted the other day that I blogged on in my last post, that is fueled in part by the impatient press corps who follows the Giants. Both the Chronicle and Mercury have been lambasting the Giants the past few years for their alleged lack of development and long-term thinking when, as I've been showing those same few years, that the Giants have a plan and that plan revolves around great pitching and great fielding overall.

Yet these same people, some of which whole-heartedly advocated trading away Lincecum for Alex Rios (now that would have been the worse trade of all trades in Giants history, and we have doozies just in the SF era, of great players traded away for almost nothing: Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry, Dave Kingman, George Foster, Bobby Bonds, Willie McCovey, Bill Madlock, Jack Clark) think that they know how best to get the Giants moving forward.

Sure, if you want to maximize your play in 2010, playing Posey at other positions at mid-season when the team is struggling would probably be a great idea for the short term. But who are you going to get to catch for you in 2011 and beyond? He's not going to improve if he's playing other positions and he might start to let up mentally on this catching if you get him thinking he might play other positions.

Now, if Jenkins is talking only about September and the playoffs, then this would be a brilliant idea. Most NL teams are hamstrung when they get into the playoffs and particularly in the World Series, as there will always be players struggling or injured. Posey could step in at that point for a month or so, and be the utility starter (giving needed rest to the regulars) while also being the backup catcher which would be his main job.

Then if the Giants would be so lucky to make the World Series, he could be a worthy DH for the team, whereas most NL teams have been and will be hamstrung with a bench player thrusted into the DH spot (remember our DH's in 2002? Shinjo, Dunston, Feliz, players who had no right to be DHing). Now THAT would be a great advantage to have, adding a Buster Posey to the lineup during the World Series.

Monday, January 25, 2010

2010 Giants Non-Roster Invitees: 22 this season

This was blogged on by Henry Schulman last week, been meaning to get to it. Here is the list of names he reported on:
  • Denny Bautista (RHP; was in majors before, I assume signed minor league contract))
  • Santiago Casilla (RHP; former A's reliever, signed to minor league contract recently)
  • Rafael Cova (RHP)
  • Steven Edlefsen (RHP; BA rated him as best slider in 2008 annual)
  • Eric Hacker (RHP)
  • Osiris Matos (RHP; we dropped him from 40-man so apparently nobody claimed him and returned to us)
  • Tony Pena Jr. (RHP; was in majors before, I assume signed minor league contract)
  • Felix Romero (RHP)
  • Dan Turpen (RHP)
  • Craig Whitaker (RHP; top pick, been working his way up long time)
  • Craig Clark (LHP)
  • Clayton Tanner (LHP; local kid, been doing well, rising up, good luck!)
  • Steve Holm (C; was dropped from 40-man last season when Whiteside brought up)
  • Jonny Monell (C)
  • Hector Sanchez (C; one of our better prospects)
  • Jackson Williams (C; one of our sandwich draft picks, good/great skills, bad bat so far)
  • Ehire Adrianza (SS; reported as major league ready SS skills, needs to develop hitting, still young)
  • Brandon Crawford (SS; noted as SS of the future by Giants brass this off-season)
  • Nick Noonan (2B/SS; hype has died down but this past season was first year he showed hitting discipline that scouts raved about when drafted, I'm very encouraged by his good improvement late in the season, but he needs to continue showing that)
  • Wendell Fairley (CF; has been up and down as a prospect, but it's a good sign that they are bringing him up to spring training this year)
  • Roger Kieschnick (RF; had very good first full pro season, still strikes out too much but shows all the skills he was advertised to have, very encouraging first year)
  • Thomas Neal (LF, not RF as Schulman noted; breakout season, nice recovery from injury from a couple of years back, could be in majors soon if he continues hitting like that but in AA, remniscent of Pablo's rise)
Giants Thoughts

I totally and vehemently disagree with Henry Schulman's assertion that the Giants need to "develop three or four Pablo Sandovals and stick them on the field at the same time." It would obviously help, and I, of course, wouldn't mind that as that would give us one of the great teams in the history of the majors, but that is not critical to the team's success over the next few seasons. Perhaps this is why fans are so upset over the lineup, because reporters lead them to think that having so many great hitters (and Sandoval is a great hitter) in the lineup is a requirement to be successful every season in making the playoffs.

Heck, we didn't even have three or four Sandovals the year we went to the World Series (Bonds and Kent only, nobody else even broke 800 OPS).

Here is how special Sandoval was in 2009: only 6 hitters in the NL had a OPS as high as Sandoval's .943, only 4 hitters in the AL, for a total of 10 hitters in the majors, out of roughly 400 hitters. There are not that many players like Sandoval in the majors. So, no, we don't need to develop three or four Pablo Sandovals, that would be setting the bar waaay too high.

As I noted in my business plan series (linked to the side), when you have a great pitching staff, the offense does not have to be that good to win 90 games. With our defense (pitching and fielding) last season, we only needed to score 4.30 runs per game to reach 90 wins. That would have placed us comfortably 11th in the NL in 2009 (average runs scored was 4.43), behind the Washington Nationals which was 10th with 4.38 runs scored. With an average offense, we would have won 92 games.

Using Bill James projections plus our projected lineup, the Giants should score over 4.5 runs per game. To win 92 games averaging 4.5 runs scored, our defense would need a runs allowed average of 3.83, just slightly above last year's 3.77.

But James's projections tend to be on the high side, from what I recall. CHONE won for "best" projection for their 2008 projections, if I remember right. Using CHONE's projections, the Giants should score over 4.4 runs per game. If they did that, the Giants defense would have to allow 3.73 runs per game, or slightly better than last year's figure.

And I think that it is safe to assume something similar to last year's. Lincecum should be about the same. Any regression by Cain and/or Zito should be offset by Sanchez pitching well for a season (4.24 ERA overall but 5.54 ERA as starter before no-hitter and 3.46 ERA starting from no-hitter, and even without the no-hitter, he had a 3.83 ERA afterward, plus maturation and confidence and development for 2010, when he'll be 27 YO) and improvements in the #5 starter, whether Bumgarner or whoever, as our other starters (other then the four we have for 2010) had a 4.62 ERA collectively in 2009. Defensively, we take a big hit with Huff at 1B, but DeRosa and Sanchez are pretty good in the OF and 2B, respectively, which should balance things there. Plus Renteria's arm should be better with the surgery and Sandoval should be better with one more season of experience.

But I do agree vociferously with most of the rest of Schulman's post. "The Giants have taken the first step with some good position-playing drafts." I also agree with the Giants front office assertion that Baseball America was ill-informed when it criticized their system before, particularly in 2007 and 2008 when Sandoval was doing well but BA didn't think enough of him to put him in the Giants Top 30 prospects list.

I also whole heartedly agree that "Fans need some patience." Fans have not been patient. This is a long term process, and worrying that this might be the only year we can capitalize on Lincecum et al is fatalistic and shows lack of confidence, which I suppose is only fitting because these fans show no confidence in Sabean despite the great job he has done with the pitching staff. I, for one, am glad the Giants are taking the long view with regards to their strategy and not signing a Holliday (who I think is being overpaid in any case).

As I've been preaching the past few years, the Giants have been re-building and re-builds are never pretty nor cleanly done. It is never done with just home-grown players, there will always be free agents signed to fill in the gaps that the farm system could not fill. It will not be perfect, there will be mistakes, but you have to look at the big picture and see what team is coming out of the process.

What is coming out is a team dominated by a great pitching rotation, supported by a great bullpen, and has a developing offense, with Sandoval now in there (we have at least 5 more seasons of him) and Posey in the wings, plus a lot of good prospects percolating upward or already trying to make a name for themselves (Schierholtz, Bowker, Ishikawa, Burriss, Frandsen).

People are worried that the Giants won't be able to re-sign their young pitchers beyond our arbitration control because of the large contracts already committed (Zito and Rowand) but here I am putting my trust into Neukom's statement that he will get the money should we ever need it for a player. People have been assuming that applies only to free agents but I would have to think that it would apply to our own players as well, and Lincecum and Cain will be the first recipients of that largess, I believe.

Lastly, I would clarify one statement Schulman noted, that developing position players have not been the Giants forte. That's true if you are looking at the total number of position players developed. But that's not the whole story.

The whole story is that the Giants have been focusing their first round picks mainly on pitchers for the most part since Sabean took over as GM, and particularly after Dick Tidrow took over as head of player personnel. Those picks have the greatest likelihood of becoming a major league player, and even then, when you are winning, those picks become a good starting player around 10% of the time, which is pretty low odds. And they just get lower and lower, already around 1% by only the 4th round.

Picks like Posey (5th) and Wheeler (6th) become good players around 45% of the time, but by the 10th pick (Lincecum and Bumgarner) it has fallen to around 20% success rate for finding good starting players, and by the 21-30th picks, the ones that the playoff teams get, it is around 10%, as noted above.

That is a pretty low success rate, so while it is correct to say that developing position players have not been the Giants forte, there is a huge mitigating factor in that they had not been trying to be successful in developing position players, really, until 2008 when they drafted Buster Posey, Conor Gillaspie, Roger Kieschnick, and Brandon Crawford.

And, if Sandoval continues to hit like he did in 2009, what would you rather have: one Pablo Sandoval or a handful of Mark Teahen's, Bobby Crosby's, Dan Johnson's, Mike Jacob's? I would rather get a great player once in a while who you can't pick up easily via free agency, than a bunch of OK starters who you can pick up easily via free agency.

And Sabean has picked up great players over the years. Kent in 1997. Schmidt in 2001. Cain in 2002. Sandoval in 2003. Lincecum in 2006. And it is looking like Bumgarner in 2007 and Posey in 2008. Plus if Sanchez and Wilson continue doing well, I would add them to the list as well.

Oh, and I totally agree with Schulman that "they will be fun to watch."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Molina Teleconference and Sanchez Shoulder Surgery

Molina has been officially signed by the Giants and there was a press conference earlier today. Reports from Baggarly's blog (and his news account) and John Shea of the Chronicle. Here are key points covered, including the surprising news that came out of a KNBR interview last night with Bruce Bochy, where he casually noted that Freddy Sanchez had shoulder surgery about a month ago and is on the bubble for making the start of the season.
  • Molina is officially a Giant, signing a $4.5M contract. Bengie noted that the Mets never offered a multi-year contract, else he probably would have took it, and only offered him a $5.0M contract (my note: most reports had it at $5.5M), so he decided that he would rather be where he was comfortable than get $500K more (my note: but apparently did not mention the $1.5M option that he could earn that most sources reported). He also said that he expects the Giants to be making the playoffs, unlike the Mets. He believes the Giants are "very, very close" to making something special happen.
  • Nice quote: "The plan is to move him down in the lineup, possibly sixth. "I never considered myself a fourth hitter. I thought I was doing them a favor," said Molina, adding he'll bat wherever manager Bruce Bochy wants him. "I can hit behind the pitcher if he wants me there."
  • Molina said he texted Posey and assured him that he wasn't there to take his job (though probably he did, unless the Giants signed another starting catcher) and offered to be there for him for anything. Posey then called back and they chatted. Sabean reiterated that Posey needed more seasoning in the minors, though he didn't rule out Posey starting the season as the backup catcher. Bu the expectation is that he'll get to start everyday in AAA and continue his learning with Steve Decker (former Giants catcher) who is now Fresno's manager (moving up the farm system). Baggarly noted that it's possible he will receive a promotion at some point this season. Molina said, "I said I'm happy to help out with whatever he needs. If they want to bring him up and do their thing, hey, I understand."
  • Sanchez had left shoulder surgery on December 23rd. The Giants Dr. Akizuki, who is on their staff, repaired a torn labrum and cleaned up an arthritic AC joint arthroscopically. Apparently the Giants did 4 MRIs on him before signing him, but like the medical shows, missed the torn labrum, which went unnoticed until Sanchez started swinging a bat again. He is expected to be out 10-12 weeks, meaning that Opening Day is in doubt, but the expectation is that he'll be 100% once he does take the field. I can understand the mistake, but when so many of them are being made, it makes you wonder what is going on with our training staff. The good news is that Sanchez is working his butt off to make opening day and it is encouraging thus far.
  • Juan Uribe is our starting 2B until Sanchez gets back. That's why we signed him, insurance in case some regular is unable to start or needs a rest. I was hoping the Giants might play DeRosa there instead and let two young players start in the OF, but I can see the merits of keeping DeRosa out in LF since he doesn't have the most experience out there (though over a season's worth of games in the OF).
  • They reported that both Burriss and Renteria were doing well. Renteria told the Giants that he's excited about where he's at. Hopefully that will translate to his hitting like he did when he was a plus hitter, that would be a boon to our offense.
  • The Giants DFAed Jesus Guzman to clear space for Molina. Sabean noted that any other acquisitions would come on minor league contracts with invitations to spring training, including additional right-handed relievers.
Giants Thoughts

Unlike many others, I have no problem with the signing, particularly since it would give Posey more time to get more experience in the minors. It should also give us one more year of control over him, plus the learning he would have done in 2010 would have costed us one year of control, while now he will get some of that learning in AAA before hopefully getting called up in July or August (or even September), and getting to play a little backing up Bengie plus learning from Molina.

I'm upset about Sanchez but I'll get over it (unlike others). He should only be out for two weeks, and that should not kill our chances of winning while he is out, because Uribe is a good enough replacement. Hey, one year Schmidt was out until May, and we came back and started winning and had a good year. As long as we don't fall too far behind while he is out, we should be OK.

Still, something has got to be done about the training staff, we seem to have all these unknown medical conditions that creep up on us, starting around when Bonds knee that was suppose to keep him out for a little while instead kept him out almost all season.

Guzman: hey, thanks for the excitement you gave us for a little while, good luck.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Giants Farm System: BA Ranks Third for 2010

Baseball America recently released on their draft blog website their grades for farm systems in the majors. The Giants and the Red Sox were tied for the highest GPA for the years 2005-2008. This covers how well BA thought the team drafted for that season. The Giants have 3 "A" grades in a row and probably should get a pretty good grade for 2009 if Wheeler pans out the way the scouts and rankers have rated him plus we picked up Tommy Joseph and Chris Dominguez.

In addition, BA published on Sports Illustrated an article on the "MLB's best and worse farm systems." There, the Giants rank third in the majors for the best farm system. Here is what BA wrote about the Giants:

3. Giants: San Francisco has two elite talents in catcher Buster Posey and left-hander Madison Bumgarner, both of whom should contribute to the major league club in 2010. The Giants also have depth, despite the uncertain status of slugger Angel Villalona, who was stripped of his U.S. visa after an off-season murder charge in his native Dominican Republic. San Francisco has shortstop options, some solid bats (such as outfielder Thomas Neal) and solid depth, but it's really about the stars.

The odd thing is that they didn't even mention Zach Wheeler, who they ranked 3rd on their Top Ten Prospect list for 2010, nor mention Tommy Joseph, who was 6th. Still, the Giants farm system had the best record in the majors, going 411-286 (.590) with four of the six affiliates reaching the playoffs and San Jose and Salem Keizer winning their league titles.

And I found the SI article because of an article on Baseball Analysts titled, "The Value of a Good Farm System" by Sky Andrecheck. The author was wondering about the value of the Baseball America annual rankings, so he did statistical regression analysis, using many variables, to see how much value is delivered in the future to the team based on where Baseball America ranked them in any particular season. What he found is that any team's ranking has a statistically significant relationship with the team's winning percentage still eight years later. This implies that when things are going well, they continue to do well for many years afterward.

The Giants are among the top teams expected to reap additional wins from their farm system, I roughly estimate 18 additional wins due to their farm system. As I noted above, the Giants were ranked 3rd for 2010 with their farm system by BA. The ranking will probably fall greatly for 2011 because Bumgarner should not be a rookie anymore, and Wheeler should not be ready to equal Bumgarner's status unless he comes out the chute like Lincecum, which is doubtful since he's a high school draftee. With the Molina signing, Posey is all but assured to spend 2010 in AAA learning defense and honing his hitting, presumably becoming the starter in 2011. But BA is not infallible, they severely misjudged what Pablo Sandoval could be, which should have boosted their ranking in 2007 and 2008 above wherever they were.

I think the Top Ten ranking next year will include some solid prospects in Neal, Joseph, Dominguez, Roger Kieschnick, Brandon Crawford, Francisco Peguero, Rafael Rodriguez, Nick Noonan, Jason Stoffel, Hector Sanchez, and I still expect good things from Angel Villalona. And, of course, it will be led by Buster Posey.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lincecum and Giants exchange arbitration figures: $13M and $8M

As reported by various sources - Mercury, Chronicle - the Giants and Lincecum submitted their arbitration figures. The Giants offered $8M and Lincecum's camp asked for $13M.

Giants Thoughts

The $8M is very low compared to the figures that has been bandied about as possibilities (somebody seriously suggested $23M), but people have to remember that this number is also partly a negotiation ploy. Once the numbers are submitted, then the mid-way point becomes the area where the negotiation starts. Still, I find it to be a bit low. Ryan Howard had the highest first year away with $10M, so $9M would have been more reasonable I think, given the general impression that hitters are worth more because they play every day.

The $13M also seems low to observers as well. It is speculated on the Merc that this relatively low figure could be influenced by the possibility that Lincecum's agent believes that the Giants would not be willing to give them what they want, resulting in no settlement before the meeting, and thus they have to present a figure that they can win in arbitration.

Historically, Sabean has tried to avoid arbitration. They have already done that with Medders and Jonathan Sanchez, who is reported to have received a $2.1M contract for 2010. And Brian Wilson looks like a done deal, he asked for $4.875M while the Giants offered $4M, so they will probably agree on a deal around $4.5M, maybe a smidge less if they take the halfway point.

Lincecum, however, is another matter. With the wide difference of $5M, it is not a situation where you simply split the middle and agree on a contract for $10.5M. Clearly, both sides feel that they are about right with their figures, and with such a chasm between the two figures, it might have to go into arbitration. Particularly since the $13M is not that onerous a figure, the Giants might be OK with that as the losing amount, viewing the arbitrator's selection as a win-win scenario. Lincecum's side might view it the same too, as with inflation and two Cy Youngs versus the Ryan Howard comparision case, $8M seems too low, and thus their $13M seems like a lock, as it is high but not that high.

The Giants have traditionally avoided arbitration because they don't want to get into any negative attacks plus settling beforehand gives you control whereas putting your fate in the arbitrator's hands has been something most teams should have avoided as they lost badly.

However, they don't really have to be negative, they can just quote what I wrote above and say that he's great, yes, unprecedented, yes, but pitchers are traditionally not worth as much as a hitter on the free agency market, and Ryan Howard is the comparison case at $10M, as he was a super-two and won both the Rookie of the Year award and MVP award plus was 5th in MVP that season, and in addition the market has dropped in price this off-season, so they had 10% sliced off for a starting pitcher, and 10% sliced off for the poor market this off-season.

I think it behooves the Lincecum camp to sign an extension much like the King Felix Hernandez deal for 5 years and $78M. The only problem is that he would probably want more than Felix got since he has won two Cy Young awards, making the final contract more like 5 years at $90-100M. I don't think the Giants want to take on that much risk in a contract (and I certainly wouldn't want them to), particularly in light of Lincecum's slight falter at the end of the season plus there were talks that his velocity went down some late in the season.

However, they might be willing to go for a 4 year contract plus an option year for the 5th year that vests based on IP by Lincecum. That probably would be in the $70M range, which would be more palatable a risk, though still a huge risk.

It will be interesting what happens, but I expect the Giants to try to sign him in the $11-12M range with no extension.

Report: Molina signs with Giants for $4.5M

Breaking news, here is the link, which I found on McCovey Chronicles. Quite a scoop for CBS-KPIX!

Giants Thoughts

Obviously, this means Buster Posey will be in AAA for most of the season, at least the early part, and Molina/Whiteside will be our backstops for the first half of 2010. Posey could then come up mid-season and Molina would be either sharing the starting position with him, or traded away with Posey taking over (probably not traded though, just noting the possibility).

This is exciting news, as I like Molina, but the caveat is that his OPS dipped a lot last season. Hopefully that is because he became a father for the first time and was missing a lot of sleep because he was kept busy taking care of the baby. If he can return to his former level of performance, plus provide a nice bat in the 6th spot (I think it'll be Huff 4th, DeRosa 5th, and Molina 6th), oh what the heck:

1) Rowand
2) Sanchez
3) Sandoval
4) Huff
5) DeRosa
6) Molina
7) Renteria
8) Schierholtz

They might swap Renteria and Schierholtz since Renteria is the vet and would be better able to handle batting 8th more than a prospect. Heck, if Renteria is healthy, he could bat 6th and Molina 7th or 8th.

This probably also means that the Giants are done signing hitters. Despite what people say about the Giants management, they have tried to give their young hitters a chance to prove themselves, and with this move, only RF is unspoken for, with Schierholtz the expected winner but battling with Bowker, who should give him a good run for the money, particularly if he can continue to get on base like he did in AAA.

However, that does not preclude picking up some hitters via a minor league contract. One hitter in particular I would hope the Giants kick the tires on is Eric Byrnes, who was recently let go by the D-backs, despite the $11M that they still owe him for 2010. He would be a much better backup than Andre Torres: while also playing all the OF positions and a RHH, Byrnes is a much better hitter, hits for more power, steals bases much better than Torres (much higher success rate in majors, 85%, than Torres compiled in minors, 75%), the only thing Torres is better is defense and at least Byrnes have been a good defensive outfielder when healthy.

And that is the key, whether he is healthy. But he should be willing to take a minor league contract so that the Giants don't have to clear a spot for him on the 40-man roster because he's getting $11M from the D-backs anyway. Plus, the Giants are his childhood team, it would be a dream come true for him to make the team.

And if healthy, he should be able to give Torres a run for the money in spring training for a backup position, which he acknowledged in a recent interview in the Chronicle is what he is now given the past two years, a backup. And if he made the Giants, he would be able to provide both power, speed, and defense off the bench, and across the OF, as he could play all three positions.

In addition, he could push Rowand in 2010. If healthy, he could take over starting in CF for long stretches if Rowand gets into one of his deep slumps again, like he did in 2008 and 2009. At minimum, Bochy could give Rowand the rest he said he wanted to give him more of in 2010 by starting Byrnes in CF.

And Torres, despite the fanboy love he has engendered with a subset of Giants fans, is not going to repeat his 2009 performance. He struck out like he was a power hitter and his BABIP was unsustainable even for the best hitters in MLB history, let alone a backup journeyman like Torres. Byrnes, if healthy, would be a better backup, by heads and shoulders over Torres.

But, if you haven't guessed yet, Byrnes has to prove to be healthy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Huff Aftermath: Batting Cleanup, Merkin DFAed

In the aftermath of the news that Huff was signed, in his press conference after he was offically signed (as reported by many, but here's a link to Baggarly's version which was more comprehensive) a number of things were announced. Plus, today, it as reported by the Chronicle's John Shea that Merkin Valdez was DFAed to open up a spot for Huff. In the conference call:
  • Big news: Huff is batting cleanup. I guess they don't want to pressure Sandoval and according to the lineup analyzer, that switch won't cost the offense much, if any. Huff is also viewed as a legit cleanup hitter, based on what he has done in his career.
  • As expected, he'll be the starting 1B which sets the starting defense with Sandoval at 3B, DeRosa in LF, and Uribe, as expected, in his super-utility but really super-backup in case anybody is injured or performing badly.
  • Also big news: Huff is playing everyday. I'll bet it's a concession to him to get him to sign plus they don't really have a platoon partner to go with him, and even if they did, then they would have to explain why they are keeping Ishikawa on the roster. And as Bochy noted, he doesn't envision it being a platoon, but I would note that things will change in the regular season based on circumstances.
  • Top five hitters: Rowand, Sanchez, Sandoval, Huff, DeRosa. Bochy prefers his best all-around hitter batting third (the lineup analyzer would disagree about putting Sandoval third, as that leads to less runs being batted in - probably because a large percentage of the time he will come to bat with two outs already and nobody on or man on 1B - though more runs scored, because of the hitters behind).
  • Baggerly hit the nail on the head that Valdez was the player designated (he's not gone until another team claims him) since Sabean said that he is next working on a free-agent reliever.
  • The savings on Huff relative to the 2 year, $17M reported offer for LaRoche opens up payroll to get other free agents. Sabean noted, "It was a good twist of fate as things turned out where other avenues ended up not being pursued. This ended up being our best option and we’re glad it turned out this way.” From what I read somewhere, the Giants did not consider Huff until after LaRoche turned down their offer, and was pleasantly surprised when they investigated Huff. More Sabean: "The more we examined what he has done and what we need, we thought this would be a good fit. He’s a fourth hitter who’s been a run producer and quite frankly he’s got the track record we were looking for. Even in a down year he drove in 85 runs which is something we needed. I just saw him in Arizona. He looks in good shape, ready to go.”
  • Sabean said the Giants are still looking for a catcher and a reliever, but doesn't "anticipate" signing another starting pitcher to allow Bumgarner to begin in AAA. "I don't know that the fifth starter will fit the bill as much as there might be some interesting relief choices to give us more presence." Bumgarner looks ready and by TINSTAAPP, once a pitcher is ready, it is a waste of his arm to have him throw in the minors. Still, there was talk of him being a reliever, so I would say that there is some odds that the Giants might change course and sign a starter and have Bumgarner pitch in relief.
  • Sabean is convinced a catcher will fall to the Giants: "The catcher's market is remarkably still evolving. There will probably be somebody left without a place to go that we can turn to. We are willing to go to (rookie Buster) Posey but we are keeping an open mind. We’ll revisit as we go along."
  • Bochy noted that RF is an open competition and Schierholtz and Bowker were mentioned while Lewis was not. Makes sense, Lewis was not very good looking defensively in LF (if statistically good because he's competing against a lot of stiffs in LF) and RF is even tougher.
Giants Thoughts

As I noted, I like the deal, though I would have gone with Ishikawa, but Huff is more of a sure bet to produce at 1B and is a proven cleanup hitter and that is what we need. And he has been OK defensively at 1B, and playing everyday there should help him improve there as well. He seems like a nice guy, a jokester, from the snippet of the interview he gave on the Razor and Mr. T show on KNBR yesterday, so he should add to the clubhouse I think.

Valdez, as much as I would like to give him another chance, he had a horrible 2009 season and he was already off the team possibly anyhow with Waldis Joaquin's emergence. The bullpen was already set with Wilson, Affeldt, Romo, Runzler, Medders, and a longman, either Martinez or Pucetas. Valdez would have been competing with Joaquin for that last spot. And if we could get another good reliever, that would make the bullpen unit pretty bullet-proof.

The lineup, as I noted, with Sandoval 3rd and Huff 4th does not suffer much if any from the switch, depending on the forecaster used. Bill James forecast results in a 4.6 RS lineup while the CHONE forecast results in a 4.5 RS lineup. The former with last year's defense results in 95 wins, the latter in 93 wins.

El Lefty Malo feels that the defense overall cannot be the same but I don't agree entirely or rather that I think that is missing the Big Picture. Fielding is worse, but I think the pitching staff overall can improve or at least mitigate the loss in fielding. And the bigger picture is that the offense, at even 4.50 runs vs. the 4.06 of last season, would score an additional 71 runs. I don't think the defense would be that much worse, last year they gave up 377 runs, that would be almost 20% increase in runs allowed to negate the gains in offense. I can see losing 1 win for DeRosa, 2 wins for Huff, and 1 win for the rest defensively for 4 wins lost or 40 runs, roughly 10% increase.

Given all that, I think 90 wins is a good target for the Giants to shoot for and reach and be competitive for the division title:
  • The D-gers lost Wolf, a major cog of their rotation and they should not be able to replace him easily. Pineiro is the best remaining and at his career numbers, the D-gers give up 28 more runs or 0.17 per game, which will cost them about 4 wins, putting them around 91. If they don't get him, then they lose even more and Manny isn't getting any younger either and Pierre, as horrible as he can be, was a good replacement for Manny in 2009 but now he's gone.
  • Colorado lost Jason Marquis, second best starter on their rotation, but bring back Jeff Francis, who missed all of 2009, and wasn't as good as Marquis before that and he'll be 29 in 2010. That should cost them a couple of games, which would put them at 90 wins.
  • Arizona made a whole bunch of changes (including reportedly signing LaRoche for $5.5M) plus will be adding back two players out in 2009 in Webb and Jackson. Still, they only won 70 games in 2009, I don't really see them adding 20 games even with their additions (and losses, they traded away two good young pitchers as well as got two older but still young starters in Jackson and Kennedy).
  • The 'Dres could surprise in 2010, I like their young players coming up, they are waiting for them to firm up and produce, they could be competitive and they won 75 games last season, not far from a .500 season. But I don't see them competing either without much better pitching, which is not a forte of their farm system.

Our main competitors lost major cogs in their pitching rotations while adding no one of consequence yet while the Giants lost no major cogs (Molina might have been our cleanup hitter, but he was a drag on our offense) plus might gain one or two (Huff, DeRosa, Posey, Bumgarner, Sanchez), but many don't think the Giants can compete?

If you can't be satisfied with an 88 win season with possibilities for better after a number of losing seasons, just because we ended up in 3rd, I can't help you. I am going to enjoy the 2010 season, I am going to enjoy the next decade, as the Giants have the ingredients to be competing during this decade, the 10's. In baseball today, that is the best you can ask for, to be competitive year in, year out, and if you can't realize that and enjoy the team, oh well, too bad for you.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I'll Huff and I'll Puff: Giants Sign Aubrey Huff for $3M

As reported by ExtraBaggs, Chronicle, and sfgiants.com, the Giants are expected to sign Aubrey Huff to a contract pending a physical. Baggarley and the Chron reports that it is for $3M and one year. No indication where he will play, will have to wait for the Giants press conference to announce this, probably tomorrow.

But that hasn't stopped the speculation on where he might play. Obviously, with his experience playing 1B, 3B, and OF (mostly RF), he's another flexible cog in the lineup who is expected to supply left-handed power. He's usually been a key RBI producer for most teams he's been on, and that's what has kept him in the lineup despite his poor defense.

There has also been speculation on what this means for Travis Ishikawa, since Huff was a 1B/DH last season for Baltimore then Detroit. And, de riguer, the usual hand twisting over Sabean not being fit to be our GM.

Giants Thoughts

Where to start? First, this is a great deal. $3M gamble on a proven hitter who had a bad 2009 (and 2007 as some like to note) but even he at his current apparent skill level is probably one of the better hitters on the 2010 Giants, which people forget is the main point, not that Huff is just a shadow of his former self. Bill James project that he'll hit .267/.334/.445/.780 with 20 HR (though now reduced by AT&T) and that would be good in the Giants lineup. And he is a career .282/.340/.472/.812 hitter with 203 HR. His strikeout rate supports a continuation of a high batting average, as it has mainly been under the 15% that you want hitters at or below, and he also walks a lot to boot, and have pushed that rate up in recent years, though his strikeout rate has gone up as well, to poor levels last year.

His 2009 was affected greatly by playing in Detroit, which was one of the extreme pitcher's parks in the majors when it first opened but has moderated since then as their hitters figure out the park (much like AT&T in its early years, and it still greatly affects LHH) but appears to still affect players new to it. He still hit .253/.321/.405/.725 in Baltimore with 13 HR before moving on to Detroit where his HR/FB ratio fell from 9.7% to 6.5%.

In addition, he suffered some some extreme bad luck on the road in 2009, with a BABIP of .245 where his road BABIP was .295 for his career. However, some of that might be a decline in his abilities, as his road BABIP was .274 where his career is .290. However, that is mostly a Detroit effect as his home BABIP in Baltimore was .297, which is right in line with his career numbers, it was his elevated strikeout rate that contributed to his offensive decline with Baltimore.

All this suggest that Huff might not be on his last legs but could have a comeback offensively. Particularly if he doesn't play that much against LHP, which for some reason he played proportionally more against in 2009, another reason why his numbers overall were down, as he is not a great hitter against LHP, though OK for a LHH.

Defensively, he's actually much better at 1B than 3B (though still slightly negative), so the odds are that he'll be playing at 1B mostly for the Giants as Sabean said that they want to keep Sandoval at 3B. Of course, with Ishikawa also a LHH and 1B, Travis probably will not see a lot of starting time in 2010 or, as some speculated, will be released at some point. Huff is also capable of playing in the OF, but mostly poorly in RF.

I think this move saves Ishikawa as a reserve on the team whereas if we had signed LaRoche, Ishikawa's days were probably numbered. The Giants need a backup who can take over for Huff if he is really done for his career or if he struggles too long adjusting to AT&T and a new team. In addition, obviously Huff is not the answer long-term at 1B and the Giants don't really have an option at 1B in the minors close, though Thomas Neal with a strong season in AA could put his name in play and Bowker could always move there too. And Ishikawa is much stronger defensively than Huff at 1B, as OK Huff is there defensively (UZR is only slightly negative at 1B in limited play).

Huff looks like he'll be our #3 hitter now, having done the best in that lineup position during his career, though the Giants could put him 5th and DeRosa 3rd. With a relatively high BA, high OBP, plus high SLG, that makes sense. Looks like the lineup will be Sanchez 2nd, Huff 3rd, Sandoval 4th, DeRosa 5th is relatively set, maybe swapping Huff and DeRosa, possibly with Rowand leading off (for now). That leaves Renteria, Schierholtz/Bowker, and Posey to bat 6/7/8, probably with the RF 6th, then Renteria and Posey batting 7/8 depending on the situation.

Using the Bill James projections, this Giants lineup is estimated to produce 4.63 runs scored per game. With last year's pitching and fielding producing a defense of 3.77 runs allowed per game, and assuming they can do the same in 2010, the Giants would have a 95 win season, and be a very strong contender for the NL West title.

I also see a lot of shifting around that might happen. When Sandoval rests, I can see Huff playing 3B against RHP for sure, else Uribe. Huff has been great hitting against RHP during his career, and he did OK against them in 2009 for Baltimore. If Schierholtz or Bowker fail to win RF, Huff could start instead in RF if Ishikawa does enough to beat out Schierholtz or Bowker. Obviously if Huff fails, Ishikawa would be there to take over but if Bowker does well enough, he could take LF, push DeRosa to 3B, and Sandoval to 1B.

There are a lot of fallback positions the Giants could take and not take a huge hit in the lineup should any of our new additions or any of our young potential starters fail to produce. I think that this balances improved offensive production with giving opportunities to our young prospects to succeed or fail.

I would have preferred going with the young prospects, but the Giants management is focused more on continuing the gains they made last season and improving in 2010 relative to 2009 in order to greatly improve the odds of competing for the NL West division title. I think that Ishikawa, when including his stellar defense, would provide as much production at 1B as Huff. But at $3M, Huff is not that expensive and Ishikawa, as much as he produced last year, there are still question marks that, if unanswered, could spell another disastrous year of production from 1B.

Now Giants management can focus on signing our arbitration eligible players and perhaps sign one or two to contract extensions (hopefully Lincecum and maybe Wilson or Sanchez). Also, perhaps they can sign Sandoval to a nice long-term extension going into his free agent years, that would be good.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Giants Should Hire Randy Johnson as Coach

There is a very nice article by Chris Haft on sfgiants.com about Randy Johnson's influence on the Giants 2009 team. Based on what's in there, we definitely should engage Johnson in adding him as a coach somewhere in our system, whatever works for what he wants to do in his after career.
Some interesting tidbits:

Johnson imparted much of his wisdom upon his brethren in San Francisco's
starting rotation, bestowing lessons they'll ideally draw upon throughout the
future.

And:

Johnson repeated last year that his competitive philosophy revolved around his preoccupation with winning, a healthy obsession that spurred him to win 303
games in his 22-year career. As Giants right-hander Matt Cain explained, Johnson's approach proved infectious.

"He really made an impact on us as a staff to try to lead this team to a victory," Cain said Wednesday, one day after Johnson announced his retirement. "And then the hitters [would] do the same thing. He kind of joined our staff together and motivated us, and I think that motivated the whole team. I feel like we clicked as a group a lot better than we have in the past."

And:

During his retirement conference call, Johnson expressed a desire to coach that stemmed from his interactions with teammates in recent seasons.

"The one thing I really enjoyed the last few years, for anybody who wants to listen, is help people," Johnson said.

And:

Each of San Francisco's starters absorbed Johnson's counsel.

Hearing Johnson urge him not to feel satisfied with success, Tim Lincecum won his second consecutive National League Cy Young Award.

Thrilled to have such an eminent left-hander in his midst, Barry Zito performed with renewed focus as the Giants won 18 of his 33 starts.

"He's a Hall of Fame guy," Cain said of Johnson. "You want him to remember that you played your heart out with him. It's a great opportunity that we got to play with him, not just another face we played against. It was a lot of fun to be a teammate of his."

Jonathan Sanchez, who reminded Johnson of himself, crept closer toward gaining true consistency and scraped the ceiling of his skill by no-hitting San Diego on July 10. Sanchez, said Johnson, was "a lot like I was at a young age. He has everything there; he has to put it together."

And:

Cain himself might have been Johnson's sharpest pupil. They played catch together before Spring Training workouts, but Cain took more from Johnson than just hundreds of throws.

"We had a ton of sit-down conversations in spring," said Cain, who listened to Johnson discuss the essentials of developing sound preparation, maintaining intensity on the mound and taking nothing for granted.

Cain endured poor run support while posting a 15-30 mark in 2007-08. The Giants scored more often for Cain in 2009, but he seized upon his improved backing by avoiding the late-inning collapses that occasionally plagued him.

This was partly a product of Johnson's telling him that whether he found himself
in the first, fifth or ninth inning, each frame was important.

"It really helped me stay focused longer through the game and throughout the season," Cain said. Result: Cain won 12 of his first 14 decisions, finished 14-8 and made his first NL All-Star team.

And:
"When you actually saw him go out there and take that mentality to the field -- he wasn't just saying it, he believed in it and made you believe in it," Cain said.

And:
"I think we'll always think back to the mentality we took in every start," Cain said. "It improved me a lot."

Giants Thoughts

Hopefully the Giants management who attended the press conference where Johnson talked about all this pulled Randy aside afterward to talk about him taking on a coaching role with us when he is ready. I am afraid, however, that his home might be in Arizona, and given his long tenure there, both would point towards him working for them.

But as I noted in my post about his retirement, he should be studied for a chapter in The Giants Way manual on how a pitcher should operate and make that SOP (standard operating procedure) for every pitcher coming through the Giants system. And if he could be a coach in our system and teach what he knows, all the better.

Though, I don't know what is so revolutionary about Johnson telling Cain that "whether he found himself in the first, fifth or ninth inning, each frame was important." I (and many other baseball fans) could have told him that. It must have been in the way Johnson delivered it. :^)

Well, his stature in the game will certain give any advice he gives as coach that much more rigor and standing. Good luck to Randy, and I hope the Giants were one of the people listening to Randy when he spoke about wanting to help people. He mentioned in an interview that there will be nothing in life that will give him that feeling of competition like he felt when he was pitching, but there is the next best thing: being manager.

And in the meantime, maybe Randy can work on that chapter on pitching for us. :^)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Don't Touch His O.J.: Randy Johnson Announces His Retirement

Most of the Giants news outlets have put out this news - I don't feel like linking to all of them - but I do want to link to this nice article by CBS Sport's Scott Miller on Randy Johnson and his career.

My title refers to the anecdote that Miller provides at the start of his article. Apparently he monitored the level of his orange juice so that he would know if his roommate was taking any from him.

What is more important is the behind the scene story about what Randy Johnson did to become the great pitcher that he was. The article goes into some detail of all the things he would do to prepare himself to compete throughout his career. The Giants Way manual that Neukom was talking about creating could have one chapter which simply would be this article detailing Johnson's methods to his greatness and that would be a good chapter for pitchers. If the Giants were smart, they would have had someone studying Johnson's methods, documenting them, and preserving it for the Giants future pitchers to read and study.

Thanks to Randy Johnson for coming to San Francisco and being a strong example for Lincecum, Cain, and Sanchez to study from. Heck, probably Madison Bumgarner too, being a lefty and on the club for almost the month of September, I would hope he bent Johnson's ear and I would bet that Johnson would have gone and bent Bumgarner's ear anyway.

Given his accomplishments, if he's not a unanimous first year Hall of Fame inductee in five years, the voters who didn't vote for him should lose their eligibility. He has done amazing things, probably nothing more amazing than winning 300 games despite not being very good his first full season, then only average for another 3, before finally putting it together at age 29.

Then he had one heck of a run: 6 seasons with Seattle (plus brief Houston) averaging nearly 16 wins per season, then 6 seasons with Arizona averaging 17 wins per season, then 2 seasons with the Yankees at 17 wins per season. 14 years, 231 wins, average of 16.5 wins per season. One of the best sprints to 300 wins done mostly on the wrong side of 30.

Enjoy your retirement, it was well earned.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Giants Sign Uribe for One Year, $3.25M

As reported on Extra Baggs and The Splash, Juan Uribe has resigned with the Giants. Baggarly reported the $3.25M figure, no word if there was an option as rumored. Here are interesting tidbits from the press conference announcing the signing:
  • They will consider Uribe for the starting 3B position. Of course, they considered Dan Ortmeier for the starting 1B position too. I think they just said that to assuage Uribe's bruised ego over not getting a starting position.
  • He won't, however, be the starting SS, as Renteria will be that given his repaired elbow and his good history. Left unsaid, of course, is that if Renteria sucks again, he could find himself seated in favor of starting Uribe (assuming he's hitting OK).
  • Neither Sabean nor Bochy is comfortable with Velez/Torres in LF as the leadoff solution. I've been saying this for a while already, but good to get it confirmed. Sabean said as much in his previous interviews, he was never stating that they would be the lead-off solution, he was only stating that they were one of the current solution available to them.
  • Speaking of lead-off, they are reconsidering Aaron Rowand for leadoff. Well, it worked pretty well for a while last year. I don't think it's a horrible solution, and could be the best we can do with our current personnel and expected performances. Let's see what we get in 2010, and this will change.
  • Apparently getting a left-handed hitter is the next thing on their free agent agenda. He was rumored to have offered contracts to Adam LaRoche and spoke to Scott Podsednik, and when asked about Johnny Damon, he noted that no deal was imminent, which implies that he has talked with Damon's agents but, while they were not close, they are not so far apart that they aren't still talking. Damon would obviously fill the LH and lead-off spot, and probably LF too.
  • And that LF would take up the rest of their payroll leeway, so that would mean that catcher and #5 starter positions could be filled by Posey and Bumgarner respectively, unless Lincecum signs for much less, getting a back-ended contract.
  • Looks like trade is not the route for LF, as everyone wants their best pitchers. And no trade is not surprising, they don't have any mid-tier prospects they can really trade right now, except for maybe Neal, and I think he can boost his value up even more this season with a continuation of what he did in 2009, and they are not going to trade Posey or Bumgarner.
  • Travis Ishikawa will not be the starting 1B, but it sounds like there is a good chance that he will be a reserve on the team plus perhaps play some in the OF too (has to be LF with those legs of his). Not too surprising. They signed DeRosa to big bucks so he will get the title of starter, whereever that happens to be. Even before this, I think the lineup will change by pitcher, and some games will see Ishikawa starting against RHP at 1B, plus he will probably coming in late in games to provide his league leading defense at 1B. This makes it sound like he will also sit against tough RHP too, and given his poor road numbers, he might be sitting a lot there as well, though still getting some starts there to keep sharp. And DeRosa will play against all LHP (he crushes them) plus is OK (most years) against RHP. This is actually not bad for him, they still like him enough to keep him around and see if he can further develop as a hitter, and it sounds like they will give him ABs.

Giants Thoughts

As much as I don't mind Rowand leading off, he's probably most productive for us batting 7th. I think he might be thinking too much when batting in the middle and getting into bad habits hitting. The more I think about it, the more I think putting Schierholtz leadoff might be best. He has some speed, so he can probably get into double digits SB. He is not hitting yet for power, so that lack of power factors less up top. Batting leadoff might get him to think more about getting on base and taking more pitches and getting more walks. And I think he should be able to hit for a good batting average.

That would basically put Schierholtz 1st, Sanchez 2nd, Renteria 3rd (for now), Sandoval 4th, DeRosa 5th. Then Rowand would be 7th and Posey 8th, though once Posey starts hitting, he's probably moving up to the middle of the lineup, and Renteria to the 8th. Ishikawa or Uribe could then bat 6th, depending on the pitcher and how Bochy is going to use Ishikawa. And Posey and Renteria would swap once Posey is hitting well.

Now, if Bowker beats out Schierholtz for RF, then I think it would have to more like Renteria 1st, Sanchez 2nd, DeRosa 3rd, Sandoval 4th, Bowker 5th, and so on the same.

Right now, I'm not interested in any of the rumored free agents at the prices I would expect them to want. If we can get them on the cheap, in the Uribe price range, I think that would be OK.

Speaking of which, I think the salary Uribe got is reasonable. He's a backup who could see significant duty depending on the situation, but could be sitting if things go well for the Giants. It's a nice raise over last season, as a reward for what he did for us, but isn't wildly out of place in the market for free agents. He can start at 3 positions - 2B, 3B, SS - plus be a potent bat off the bench, balancing against the left-handers we could be carrying: Ishikawa, Lewis, Schierholtz, Bowker.

That is what is shocking to me, that they are looking for a LH hitter when we got so many of them, most of whom need a chance to start. I know, obviously they don't (and many fans don't) think much of our LH options. I think Schierholtz and Bowker deserves chances to start, particularly Schierholtz, and I think we would be pleasantly surprised if Ishikawa were given the chance to start regularly. But they were not so good in the minors that I would make a big stink if the Giants were to get someone who takes their starting spots, though if Bowker has another great AAA season, he needs to get in there somewhere.

I think the Giants will be picking up some minor league bargain contracts late in the off-season, just before spring, to compete for a starting corner spot, either infield or outfield, plus compete for the #5 starting slot. Kind of like the way they picked up Uribe, Medders and Miller last off-season.

With Olivio signing with the Rockies for $2.5M, I don't see the Giants going after any catcher unless the catcher is desperate. That prices backup catchers who could catch a lot in the $2-3M range. If they weren't willing to pay $1-2M for Garko as a non-starter, they should not be willing to do that for a veteran catcher, though I would hope that they bend that rule if Zaun were willing to sign with us (I think he's still a free agent).

I think/hope they will be more serious pursuing the starting pitcher, as I would think, after the Lincecum situation, that they would copy most teams and push off Bumgarner's arbitration time clock by waiting until June to bring him up. We don't really need Bumgarner right now but could use a full season of an experienced him down the line, whereas Posey we need contributing as soon as possible, and the only way that is going to happen is if we start playing him in the majors.

I would be OK with Posey/Whiteside as our catching duo for 2010. I don't think Posey is ready, but only experience will do it for him, so I would be willing to do that, let Whiteside start more often early in the season, while mentoring Posey on the defensive duties of catching (which Bochy would do too). Meanwhile, he'll be feeling his way with MLB level pitching, adjusting, until he's ready to hit.

I think the Giants should just declare Bumgarner not ready to start and go with a competition between Pucetas, Martinez, and whoever else in AAA and AA who had a nice season. Name one of them the 5th starter and give him two months to hold the fort until Bumgarner is ready mid-season. If we strike gold and he does well, it won't hurt to have Bumgarner either continue to pitch in AAA or even come up and long-relief starting mid-season, plus perhaps take a few turns in the rotation late in the season, to give our starters some extra rest. Then we would have another nice arm who we could trade for more offense next off-season.

And if I had my druthers, here is what I would do.

I would put Ishikawa and Uribe into the semi-platoon plan that I had above, plus start Schierholtz or Bowker in RF, while the other would semi-platoon in LF with DeRosa by taking starts against RHP occassionally, plus perhaps take starts in CF as well when Rowand gets more rest this season. DeRosa is not a full-time starter, he is not that good against RHP, and that is fine, he's not being paid to be a full-time starter. And if Rowand is not starting in CF, Bowker saw some play there in 2008 in Connecticut. And whoever is in RF is probably not going to get every AB there, so that is more AB for the reserve. Plus DH duties when at AL parks.

The offensive should be improved overall. The addition of Sanchez at 2B and DeRosa in LF should boost the offense right there over what Burriss and Lewis did in LF. Posey and Schierholtz/Bowker should be able to match what Molina and Winn did. Rowand should also duplicate his prior performance. Renteria was so bad last year that either his elbow really improves or Uribe would take over and do better, so that should be a plus. Ishikawa was much better after his early struggles, plus in a platoon with Uribe, 1B should be better overall with Sandoval taking AB there regularly. Lastly, 3B should be improved as Sandoval was pretty punchless the first two months of the 2009 season, but pretty steady after that.

Pitching should be improved as well, helping to boost wins as well. Lincecum and Cain have arrived. Sanchez finally got his confidence boosted and should be able to put together a full season of good performance in 2010. Zito, well, he showed that his improved velocity of late 2008 was not an illusion and he was able to work with it and figure out how to put together a good season. In fact, he was pretty good until the last month, when he doubled his number of Disaster Starts (PQS terminology). Perhaps if Bumgarner helps the starters each skip a start in the September timeframe, they can avoid the burnout I wrote about in my final PQS post for 2009.

Relief should be improved as well. It started out badly, but by year end we had Wilson, Affeldt, Romo, Runzler, Valdez, Joaquin, Medders all contributing nicely. So relief did well, but could do better in 2010 with the new additions.

All these changes should boost us a few more games in the win column and allow us to be competitors for most of the season, if not at the end.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Just say no to Chan Ho Park

Had to post this even though my other post is barely out.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Hank Schulman tweeted that the Giants are looking at Chan Ho Park: just say "NO!" to Chan Ho Park.

His stats are merely an illusion supported by his many years of success pitching in Dodger Stadium. I don't have time to dig it up, but his road stats are horrible compared to his home, and it is even worse once you eliminate all his stats when pitching in Dodger Stadium.

I would expect that the salary he gets will reflect that success in some way. If he is signing a minor league deal and get under $1M if he makes the majors, then I would be OK with the deal, as that probably gives Bumgarner time in AAA before coming up permanently later in the season. But given the Giants prior history of signing free agents to deals that are over-priced, I would fear that they will do it with Park too.

"NO!" to Chan Ho Park unless it is very cheap.

2009 Giants: September PQS and Final stats

Happy New Year!

Sorry for the delay, didn't realize that I didn't get this done yet.

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the month of September 2009 and their season totals, PQS as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book and they published the details here. I wrote on this first in 2006 and have compiled their stats on a regular basis, so I'm continuing it this season for continuity and historical comparison (there is the "PQS" label that you can click to see the old posts on this). Regular readers can skip to the next section.

This is the Quality Start with a sabermetric DIPS twist, and it gets really easy to calculate once you get used to it. I don't think it's the end all or be all, but then nothing really is that. It is, as I like to say, another piece of the puzzle. A dominating start is scored a 4 or 5 and a disaster start is scored a 0 or 1. DOM% is the percentage of starts that are dominating, DIS% is the percentage of starts that are disasters (any start under 5.0 IP is automatically a 0, or disaster).

Basically, you want to see a pitcher's DOM% to be over 40% and ideally over 50%, and you want their DIS to be under 20% and ideally under 10%. For example, Johan Santana has a 76% DOM and 3% DIS in 2006 (2.77 ERA), whereas Orlando Hernandez had a 52% DOM and 28% DIS (4.66 ERA), and Adam Eaton had a 31% DOM and 31% DIS (5.12 ERA). See my explanation down below on methodology plus read the link, there's a nice chart there showing the combination of high DOM% and low DIS%, and particularly how low DIS% is so important.

I wholeheartedly recommend buying Baseball Forecaster and learning more about their methods of analyzing baseball. It has been greatly illuminating for me, and if you want to get a taste for it without paying full price, they used to sell their old editions of their annuals on their website for half price or less (plus shipping); but that was before he sold the company off, and I haven't checked recently.

Giants Starters' PQS for 2009 Season

Madison Bumgarner - (0% DOM, 0% DIS; 0:0/1): 3

Matt Cain - (63% DOM, 6% DIS; 20:2/32): 5, 2, 4, 4, 1, 4, 3, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 5, 5, 5, 3, 5, INJ, 5, 4, 4, 3, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 5, 3, 4, 0, 5, 3

Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson- (31% DOM, 31% DIS; 5:5/16): 3, 0, 5, 0, 5, 0, 2, 0, 3, 5, 3, 2, 4, 3, 5, 1, INJ

Tim "The Kid" Lincecum - (82% DOM, 6% DIS; 27:2/33): 0, 2, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 4, 5, 5, 4, 3, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 3, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5, 0, 5, 5

Joe Martinez - (0% DOM, 40% DIS; 0:2/5): 3, 0, 2, 2, 0

Brad Penny - (67% DOM, 17% DIS; 4:1/6): 4, 5, 3, 0, 4, 4

Ryan Sadowski - (17% DOM, 50% DIS; 1:3/6): 3, 4, 3, 0, 0, 0

Jonathan Sanchez - (41% DOM, 24% DIS; 12:7/29): 0, 3, 3, 0, 2, 2, 4, 4, 0, 0, 3, 0, 2, 5, 4, 3, 4, 5, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 0, 0, 3, 3, 2

Barry Zito - (48% DOM, 24% DIS; 16:8/33): 0, 3, 5, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 0, 5, 2, 0, 4, 0, 4, 4, 3, 5, 5, 4, 5, 4, 5, 0, 1, 5, 0, 0, 4

Giants season overall - 53% DOM, 19% DIS out of 161 games counted (85:30/161); I did not count Cain's injury-shortened start against him.

Giants Month of April - 40% DOM, 25% DIS out of 20 games counted (8:5/20)

Giants Month of May - 52% DOM, 17% DIS out of 29 games counted (15:5/29)

Giants Month of June - 44% DOM, 15% DIS out of 27 games counted (12:4/27)

Giants Month of July - 62% DOM, 19% DIS out of 26 games counted (16:5/26)

Giants Month of August - 68% DOM, 7% DIS out of 28 games counted (19:2/28)

Giants Month of September/October - 48% DOM, 29% DIS out of games counted (15:9/31)

Lincecum, Penny and Cain came up big in Sept/Oct, with 4, 3, and 3 DOM starts respectively. Each also had a DIS start. Sanchez did not come up big, with only 2 DOM starts plus 2 DIS starts.

Zito was the big letdown with 4 DIS starts, though the other two were DOM. Though, relative to what they were doing all season long, each pitcher had a bit of a let down in this month plus period. Lincecum only had one DIS start all year until he doubled it in this month plus. Cain only had two before adding his one, or 50% increase. Zito, with his 4, doubled his seasonal totals up to then.

In total for the month plus, there were 9 DIS starts, the worse total for any month this season. Worse DIS% of the season too, at 29% (April was 25%). In fact, Zito's 4 DIS starts alone was almost as many as or more than the staff altogether did in any prior month: 5, 5, 4, 5, 2.

Despite this letdown on both Sanchez and Zito, the Giants actually went 8-5 in their starts. Where the losses came were with Cain and Lincecum, as the Giants went 2-4 and 2-3 respectively. Of course, the offense was a big part of that, but the opposing pitchers were part of that too, as both Lincecum and Cain faced more of the better pitchers of the opposing team.

What's Good and What's Not

A DOM at or above the 40% mark is indicative of good pitching; above 50% is great; above 70% is elite. A low DIS is also indicative of good pitching, just look at the table in the link above showing DOM% and DIS% on the axes.

If you had to chose a high DOM% or a low DIS%, pitchers tend to have a lower ERA when you have a low DIS% vs. a high DOM% (obviously if you combine both, you have a much better chance of having an elite pitcher).

2009 Season Comments

Pitching was the name of the game, as I have been saying for three seasons now. And pitching is going to be our foreseeable future, with Bumgarner about ready to make the majors (and looking to dominate, much like Lincecum) and Zach Wheeler considered a top 40 pitcher by the analysts writing for the book, The Graphical Player (and probably elsewhere, I just read this and remembered).

Yet, I still see comments out there about how the Giants should be trading some starting pitching this offseason to boost up the offense. As much pitching as we have, it is still not the right time to cash in our chips on pitching.

The right time is mid-season 2010. By that point, both Cain and Sanchez should hopefully have established themselves as good to great starters in the majors. The Giants should be trying to tie up Cain with a long-term contract extension since he's happy here and considers the Giants HIS team, as he grew up without any team affiliation, according to one interview he gave before. Also by that point, Bumgarner should be ready to make a permanent move to the majors.

If they are unable to sign Cain, then they should be looking to trade him mid-season and pick up both a bat to help us now and a bat that could help us in the future. Pitching would be nice too, and I expect a bundle of at least 3-4 good prospects, but I would want offense to the the top two prospects we get in any trade. He would be extremely valuable then, as he would still have 1.5 years economically in contract, and teams battling for the playoffs should be seeking an edge like Cain. Plus perhaps long-term.

If they are able to sign Cain, then Sanchez is also at a good point to trade. We still have 2.5 years of arbitration control, which is still cheaper than market. If he continues to do well, he'lll have the cachet of his no-hitter plus he has more talent than Cain in striking out guys (he's just not as good a pitcher as Cain). Teams, as noted, should be looking for a good addition like that. We should be able to get a good offensive piece, perhaps two good offensive prospects, depending on how desperate the other team is.

And such a move would help boost the Giants as Bumgarner should be ready to come up and replace the departing pitcher, both in the rotation and in terms of general production. Meanwhile, the trade should help boost the offense somewhere.

In addition, by then, whether in the majors or minors, Posey should be about ready to come up and contribute offensively. If he starts off in the majors (right now it seems unlikely but he could with a good spring), he will probably struggle offensively until later in the season. If he's in the minors, then obviously he couldn't contribute but could be ready to come in and do OK, much like how Sandoval and Ishikawa came up in August 2008 and hit well the rest of the season.

As I have been noting, the pitching needed to mature and develop and reach a certain talent level before they are traded off. You have to wait until the cup is overflowing with talent. People have been just too impatient with the process of re-building the team, complaining about this and that, but this team is a mere adolescent in terms of development and demanding that they do better is like asking a 10 year old to do well in the College World Series: not going to be pretty.

I think the team is getting close to the right point where we start really cashing in on the bountiful pitching we have. One thing I do admire about Billy Beane is his ability to wait out the market and draw a lot of value in trade. He could have waited on Haren, he could also have traded him earlier. But he let Haren establish his value on the market first, and when the team was in the right position, was ready to trade him.

Both Cain and Sanchez are looking ready to be trade bait that can get us a bounty of offensive talent. The Angels have a lot of offensive talent and just lost Lackey, for example. And if Lincecum proves to be a big expensive pain in the arbitration process, I wonder what type of bounty we could get for him in trade.

The key here is that Bumgarner is looking ready to leap in and take a spot atop the rotation. Thus there would be minimal transition while shifting to MadBum by trading someone. Meanwhile, we should be able to pick up some hitting as well. Plus we have Wheeler in the on-deck circle and if he develops fast like Bumgarner, we could be talking another big trade in 2-3 years of whoever is left of Cain and Sanchez, plus Bumgarner and even Lincecum.

Go Giants!

And best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

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